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Nepal coverage consistent with what Indian media has been doing: Abhinandan Sekhri

Interview with co-founder, Newslaundry

Indulekha Aravind 

The Indian media has come under fire, particularly on Twitter, for its coverage of the Nepal earthquake, with #GoHomeIndianMedia trending. A blog on CNN by Sunita Shakya, which came down heavily on the reportage with accusations that they were “not showing humanity”, also fuelled the anger. But Abhinandan Sekhri, co-founder of media critiquing website Newslaundry, is of the view that the coverage was not any more insensitive than the Indian media’s regular reportage. In an interview with Indulekha Aravind, Sekhri says the Indian media’s big brotherly attitude to Nepal is to blame for the mounting frustration of Nepali citizens and dismisses the calls for a media regulator. Edited excerpts:

The Indian media is coming under flak for its coverage of Nepal, with a blogger on CNN even remarking “Your media .. are acting like they are shooting some kind of family serials.” Is the criticism justified?

Well, that line specifically is not accurate, I’m guessing it was said in anger. But the criticism is justified to the extent that the coverage was typical of the Indian media. The media wasn’t any more insensitive in the case of Nepal as it was in the case of the farmer who died during the AAP rally or the subsequent interviews with his daughter. The coverage was consistent with what it has been doing. For instance, when NDTV got an exclusive with Aarushi Talwar’s mother, who did not speak to anyone else, the reporters outside lost their temper and began shoving the doors open and entering. And this was someone who had just lost their daughter.

In response, some journalists have remarked that the media should not be viewed as a monolith - would you agree?
Yes. In fact, I don’t think the hashtag had as much to do with the insensitivity of the media as it had to do with its big brotherly attitude, suggesting people must be grateful for what India was doing. I’ve watched Nepali channels and their day-to-day coverage is not any more sensitive than ours. I don’t know how true it is but I read that Modi said the Nepali PM got to know of the earthquake through his tweet, which I find idiotic. There was also a cartoon of “Bharat Mata” as a woman with her sari pallu being the North-East, and Nepal depicted as a crying baby cradled in the pallu, which was being fed. When you have imagery like this and a prime minister making such statements, that would tick people off.

There are suggestions that the media could have carried aid to the victims. Your view?
No, I don’t think that’s practical. The media not equipped to do that, it’s not their area of expertise. And how much can one reporter carry, when you’ll land in a place where there might be 30 people around - who would you give it to? That’s just a ridiculous expectation. And if no one went to these disaster areas, no one would know what happened.

Is there much to choose between the coverage by the English news channels and Hindi?
As a generalisation, it’s true that the English channels might not go as far but the reasons are more complex than a language divide. By and large, English journalists don’t feel the need to do it because of their sense of entitlement, where they don’t need to succumb to the pressure. Most of them are have social connections to their boss. With Hindi channels, if you can’t get the story, you can go to hell, I’ll hire someone else. This is my view, though I don’t have the data to prove it.

What did you make of Arvind Kejriwal’s suggestion, that there should be public trial of media?
I think Arvind, like the rest of the political class, has a loose tongue when it comes to the media.. But that’s not to say it’s okay for him to say that, as the chief minister of Delhi. It was a terrible diagnosis but I’m saying that with the rider that it (his remarks) were covered inaccurately, I was there. During the event, Arvind had lashed out at the media, giving some instances, and a member of the audience asked him if the solution was a public trial of media and he said it’s a “very good idea”. When someone else got up and said it’s not a good idea and reminded him of what had happened in Gujarat, when public anger was so high they would have lynched the media, Arvind agreed to that, too.

Would a regulator like the UK’s Ofcom be an answer to the crisis facing the media?
I’m not in favour of any regulation. Three years ago, when we started Newslaundry, there was a culture of the media refraining from criticising each other, no matter how much they hate each other. But now people have started calling each other out. Deregulation would do more to keep the media in check than any government regulator.

Former Forbes editor Charles Assisi recently wrote that people get the media that they pay for. How viable is Newslaundry’s model of running on subscription, rather than advertisements?
The response we have got is quite encouraging and that’s the only way for news to survive. A model based on advertising is fundamentally flawed. The advertising model is based on maximum viewership, which does not necessarily come from people committed to watching the news. The winner will always be the one grabbing the most eyeballs, which will be from carrying the most sensational stuff, as it is the world over. And news cannot be based on that.

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First Published: Mon, May 04 2015. 18:36 IST